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Open Communication, Creative Research, and Agile Problem-Solving: The Keys to RTC’s Advances in Semiconductor Research

By July 31, 2023 December 5th, 2023 No Comments

“Research in future technologies is a battle of ideas, and a flexible research culture is key to promoting creativity. A habit of collaborating is also crucial as innovation does not happen with one person.”

The Revolutionary Technology Center (RTC) is SK hynix’s future technology research organization that has already grown into a notable institution despite only being established in 2021. Based on the model of an open research platform (ORP)1, the organization is actively engaged in research collaborations and academic activities.

1Open research platform (ORP): A platform that conducts research that is widely accessible and develops an open ecosystem by encouraging research collaborations.

It would not be an understatement to say that RTC’s unique organizational culture is responsible for its rapid growth. A horizontal work culture, systematic research collaborations, and an agile work process have made positive outcomes. To find out more about the organization’s secrets to success, the SK hynix Newsroom interviewed three RTC members to discuss the center’s unique research methods and distinct work culture.

RTC Plants Seeds of Future Technologies

There have been countless companies that have faded into obscurity because they could not respond quickly enough to digital transformations or a rapidly changing market. The semiconductor sector is no exception as it no longer relies on once core concepts such as Moore’s Law2 and the Von Neumann3 architecture. As the shrinkage of devices has now nearly reached its limit, it has become difficult to increase memory speed and capacity using only conventional processes. Meanwhile, it has also become impossible to compute large-scale data using just the Von Neumann architecture, which splits semiconductors into system and memory. As a result, innovation has become important in all aspects of semiconductor development, and research on future technologies has become a matter of survival in this rapidly changing market.

2Moore’s Law: Devised by Intel Co-Founder Gordon Moore, Moore’s Law states that the number of transistors on a chip doubles every one to two years.
3Von Neumann architecture: A program-embedded computer structure typically featuring three levels consisting of the main memory unit, a central processing unit, and an input/output unit. Most computers today follow this basic structure, but its bottleneck limits the ability to design high-speed computers.

Accordingly, RTC’s goals include maintaining SK hynix’s competitiveness in the global market through advancements in DRAM and NAND flash and researching new types of memory. The center also aims to expand semiconductor technologies that can be compatible with next-generation solutions like high-performance computing.

According to Jungwook Woo of the Revolutionary DRAM team, RTC is an organization that acts as a guide to navigate SK hynix’s path forward.

▲Jungwook Woo talks about the role of RTC and the importance of revolutionary semiconductors


“I think RTC shows the way for our workforce to march forward,” he said. “This means exploring future technologies and markets while conducting pilot studies on technologies that show potential in paving the way for future business items.”

In particular, the Future Memory Research team that Lee is a part of is looking even 30 years into the future. The team draws up a future roadmap ranging around 10 to 30 years and looks at all the technologies that may be involved in this timeframe. Lee explains that it is like finding a gemstone and polishing it into jewelry.

“You can think of it as planting seeds, just like the magic beans in Jack and the Beanstalk,” he said. “In short, RTC’s job is to plant the seeds of future technologies that will eventually blossom into fine objects such as jewelry.”

Communicating Without Barriers and Moving With Shrewdness

Imagination, creativity, and ideas are the cornerstones of RTC, as it sets the focus of its pilot studies on preparing for the future rather than staying in the present. Thus, the horizontal culture of the center stands out even within SK hynix which already had a company-wide horizontal culture. Lee thinks that imagination and ideas are fostered by such open communication in a welcoming environment.

▲ Woocheol Lee describes RTC’s unique culture of open communication


“It is common to communicate through online messages at RTC,” said Woocheol Lee of the Future Memory Research team. “We do not usually write long emails or follow overly formal procedures if they are deemed unnecessary. This more relaxed approach to communication also makes it easy to talk to executives. I remember the time RTC Vice President Myung-hee Na prepared a personalized presentation due to a question I had asked her.”

Another feature that exemplifies RTC’s culture is its creative research program. The center organizes events such as Patent Day and the Innovation Box Festival to encourage a culture of open research and communication.

Patent Day is a program aimed at responding to future technologies and securing patents. Each team researches several patents and works together to develop a new one. Once the teams have developed their ideas, the center hosts Patent Day. Meanwhile, the biannual Innovation Box Festival promotes the development of future technologies. Members set aside some of their work time to transform their concepts for new technologies into concrete proposals. The selected entries become the subject of pilot studies, and the findings from the research are then encouraged to be used for patent submission or academic work.

These two programs have been praised by RTC members for encouraging creativity. “I often have random ideas floating in my head, and the center allows me to pursue these ideas in real life,” said Jaehyuk Park from the SOM Cell team.

RTC members have also stated that forming diverse project teams has proved to be very helpful for research. But such collaboration and the aforementioned open communication and creative research methods are not the only pillars of RTC’s organizational culture. Agility is also cited as a key aspect of life at RTC and this approach has enabled the center to conduct its research efficiently.

Being agile at RTC can be exemplified when its experts from different teams promptly gather together to conduct pilot studies and then turn their attention to a different task after completing their preliminary research. Woo’s team was also reorganized as a reaction to shifts in technology trends. In order to anticipate the possibilities of various technologies alongside changes in the market environment, agile research and development are conducted while the direction of work is frequently reviewed. This allowed RTC to quickly move forward with the time-sensitive pilot study. Woo considers this agile mindset a major advantage for the organization.

“In the case of pilot studies, the success or failure of the project is determined in the early stages. So, setting KPIs for the whole year may make a company miss the opportune time to conduct research. RTC, on the other hand, makes swift reviews on issues for quick decision-making and sets the right direction for the course of its projects to maintain its agile mindset.”

More Patents and Conference Presentations Thanks to a Unique Organizational Culture

The center’s organizational culture has been grounded in the belief that good processes produce good results. Lee emphasizes that Patent Day provided in-depth discussions with team members that were a great help on his road to achieving goals.

“After joining the company in 2021, I came up with several patents and a few of them have been successfully filed,” Lee said. “I was able to achieve this milestone due to the environment here that encourages filing patents, sharing ideas, and seeking challenges even if we fail at times.”

As for Park, he recently completed a pilot study on an idea that was chosen at the Innovation Box Festival.

▲Jaehyuk Park describes his participation in the Innovation Box Festival and his accomplishments


“Our team came up with an idea that was selected at the Innovation Box Festival, so we were able to conduct a pilot study that was based on the idea,” Park recalled.

As these examples show, a lot of the research conducted at RTC is actively shared among its members. This is due to RTC’s goal of becoming a collaborative research organization that expands boundaries from its internal organization to external parties. Accordingly, a lot of Lee’s work includes collaborations with overseas research institutions.

▲(From left) Woocheol Lee, Jaehyuk Park, and Jungwook Woo discuss about participating in various research projects


“We are exploring future technologies with overseas research institutes such as the Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC), Interuniversity Microelectronics Centre (IMEC), and Stanford University’s Stanford SystemX Alliance,” Lee said.

The active research and sharing that is taking place among members is also starting to pay off at the organizational level. The number of papers submitted to world-renowned conferences such as the IEEE International Electron Devices Meeting (IEDM) and IFIP/IEEE International Conference on Very Large Scale Integration (VLSI) is increasing every year. Lee thinks that these achievements are just the tip of the iceberg.

“We now want to collaborate openly on research that was previously only conducted internally,” Lee said. “As this is just the beginning for RTC, there will be further achievements down the road. If our quality collaborations and shared achievements continue, I think RTC will grow into an ORP where everyone researches together.”

An Organization Moving Into the Future With a Shared Vision

RTC has a number of initiatives to strengthen its internal communications including roundtable meetings, newsletters, and vision-sharing sessions. Many members point to these vision-sharing sessions that look at the current state of the organization and research trends as the secret to RTC’s strength. The sessions help members look objectively at where they are, suggest ways to improve, and keeps everyone on the same page.

▲(From left) Jaehyuk Park, Woocheol Lee, and Jungwook Woo talk about their approach to future semiconductor research


As for the three interviewees, they have different personal missions for the future. Woo wants to be “a scout that conducts pilot studies to propose the path for the main unit to move forward”, while Park holds the notion that “all innovations start with my work as they deal with cells, the foundation of semiconductors.” Meanwhile, Lee conducts his research with the mindset of “creating game-changing technologies that contribute not only to the company but to humanity itself.”

In the end, all three members are confident that RTC will lead the way in turning new ideas into reality and, consequently, contribute to changing the world.